40 Somali castaways sent back home after four years

Police have said that 40 Somali castaways that were found in the Maldivian EEZ on different occasions since December 2009 have been sent back to their country.

The police said that all these people were accommodated in Dhoonidhoo Police Custodial remand centre under police charge during their time in the Maldives.

Police said that the Somalis were successfully sent back after cooperation between the government and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

A joint operation was conducted with police Serious and Organized Crime Department, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Aviation Security to send them back, police said.

According to police, the Somalis were sent in a chartered flight and were accompanied with security officers.

The police said that the 40 Somalis included seven castaways rescued on December 2009, another five castaways rescued in the same month.

In 2010, authorities rescued seven Somali nationals on May 26, six were rescued on June 5, two on July 2, seven on November 28. Three more were rescued on 30 November 2010 and another three castaways rescued on December 2011.

In March 2012, a then-senior government official told Minivan News that the castaways under the custody of Maldivian authorities had refused to return home despite arrangements that were made for their safe repatriation.

According to the government official, who spoke to Minivan News on condition of total anonymity, the government had devoted “immeasurable amount of time and effort” over the past three years to safely repatriate several Somali nationals who have been discovered in Maldivian waters in dinghies lost at sea.

A delegation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) delegation arrived in the Maldives in 2012 to confirm the Somali’s preferences as no refugee can be repatriated without consent under the international conventions.

The Maldives cannot resort to the option of forced repatriation as Somalia is recognised as an unsafe state.

Maldives has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol citing “financial and technical capacity constraints” but the convention prohibits all states, regardless of whether they have acceded it, from returning a “refugee to a territory where his or her life or freedom is threatened”.

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Maldives included in United Nations’ US$2 million anti-piracy project

United Nations Trust Fund for the Fight against Piracy has approved a US$2 million package of projects for affected nations, including the Maldives.

The aim of the five projects, approved April 30, is to ensure ongoing piracy trials are conducted in a fair and efficient manner and that the human rights, health and safety of individuals suspected of piracy are protected. This includes facilitating the repatriation of detainees suspected of piracy from the Maldives to Somalia.

Other initiatives involve providing support to law enforcement authorities and prosecutors in “front-line States” to investigate illicit financial flows from piracy. Biometrics-based fishermen database systems will also be implemented to support monitoring and surveillance of fisheries resources, while also providing important information to counter-piracy forces. Projects have been approved for Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Seychelles, and the Maldives.

United Nations Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun acknowledged the gains made in controlling piracy, but stressed that the international community “should not be under any illusion that piracy has been conclusively brought under control” during the announcement of the projects in New York.

“The dramatic decline in pirate attacks is clear evidence of years of hard work by United Nations Member States, international and regional organizations, and actors in the shipping industry,” said Zerihoun.

“The international community should continue to support the efforts of Somalia and States in the region to strengthen their maritime law enforcement capacities and their rule of law sector.

“With the Trust Fund’s resources largely spent, now is the time to replenish the Fund to bridge critical gaps in counter-piracy efforts,” he added.

The United Nations Trust Fund for the Fight against Piracy was established in 2010 and have received approximately US$17 million in contributions from member states and the maritime industry. The funds have been used for 31 projects, totalling approximately US$16 million, and “short-term needs related to unforeseen expenditures”.

The purpose of the trust fund is to “defray expenses” associated with prosecuting suspected pirates and undertaking other activities to fight piracy.

The trust fund’s Board is comprised of 10 voting member States – Germany, Italy, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Norway, Qatar, Seychelles, Somalia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom – and three non-voting entities, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS).

Piracy threat

The Maldives is situated at a strategic intersection of sea trade routes, and a significant amount of global maritime traffic passes through or near the country’s northern atolls.

Due to increasing pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean and the frequent encounters with Somali castaways in Maldivian territory, maritime experts have speculated that the piracy threat is growing in Maldives.

“We are very concerned about piracy in the Maldives since we are located in the Indian Ocean, one of the major areas [at risk],” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told Minivan News today (May 6).

“The Maldives has already raised these issues with international organisations and international media,” he added.

Ali confirmed that although recent joint military exercises with neighboring SAARC countries, such as India and Pakistan, were not solely for anti-piracy purposes, that issue was included.

“We are seeking protection [from pirate attacks] from SAARC countries,” said Ali.

In an effort to address the growing threat of piracy and rising concerns over the security within Maldivian territorial waters and the wider Indian Ocean, the Government proposed an anti-Piracy bill in January 2013.

The stated purpose of the bill is to establish a legal framework to deal with piracy within the territorial waters of the Maldives amidst concerns at the growing risk of maritime crime in the Indian Ocean over the last few years.

The bill also seeks to outline legal procedures to deal with individuals suspected of committing acts of piracy within Maldivian territorial waters, give that such procedures do not presently exist in the country’s legal system.

Pirate attacks

The Maldives experienced the first confirmed case of piracy within its waters back in March 2012, when a Bolivian-flagged vessel headed for Iran was hijacked by Somali pirates. The vessel was released a few days later.

The Maldives’ government first expressed concern over the growing piracy threat in 2010 after small vessels containing Somali nationals began washing up on local islands.

In March 2012, 40 Somali castaways in the custody of Maldives authorities refused to return home despite arrangements that were made for their safe repatriation.

“Some of the Somali refugees are not in the Maldives. I can’t say exactly how many have been repatriated. The process has been ongoing. The Home Ministry and so many others are involved,” explained Ali.

In January 2012, an American luxury passenger line en route to the Seychelles was stranded in the Maldivian waters due to an alleged “piracy risk”, while the passengers departed to the Seychelles through airline flights.

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Maldives agrees to repatriation of Somalian detainees

Director of Somalian state Puntland’s Counter-Piracy Directorate, Abdirasak Mohamed Dirir, has travelled to the Maldives to finalise the repatriation of 40 Somalian youths currently detained in the Maldives.

Foreign Office Spokesman Ibrahim Muaz Ali has confirmed that the director had met with Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz, and Special Advisor to the President Dr Hassan Saeed.

Muaz said that Dirir had been accompanied by officials from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Dirrir was reported as telling local Puntland paper Garowe Online that the Somalians had been informed of their impending release and were “ecstatic”.

“Our mission was to wrap up the agreement by Puntland and Maldives to free the 40 youth who are currently being held in Maldives. Thanks to God the youth will be heading home as quick as possible,” Dirir is quoted as saying.

Muaz told Minivan News that the agreement had been finalised, with Somalian authorities granted permission to land aircraft to be used for the repatriation, with the funds to be provided by the UNODC.

“We are currently preparing a timeline – hopefully it will take around two months,” said Muiz.

The detained Somalians were apprehended after their boats drifted into Maldivian waters, with some having drifted for months at sea.

Many were found in frail health conditions due to dehydration and malnourishment, and had to undergo long treatments before being transferred to Dhoonidhoo Detention Center, where they were provided temporary refuge until negotiations on repatriation were finalised.

Repatriation was delayed owing to a lack of identification documents for the Somalians and the difficulty of negotiating with the fractious African state – Puntland itself is a semi-autonomous region within Somalia.

However, earlier this year Minivan News was informed by an anonymous government official that repatriation was being delayed due to the detainees reluctance to return to the failed state.

The official reported that, when asked by a delegation representing the United Nations High Commissioner  for Refugees (UNHCR) if they wished to return home, all of the Somalians said no.

The anonymous official observed that the Maldives could not resort to the option of forced repatriation as Somalia is recognised as a unsafe state.

Maldives has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol citing “financial and technical capacity constraints” but the convention prohibits all states, regardless of whether they have acceded it, from returning a “refugee to a territory where his or her life or freedom is threatened”.

“So the project is now a big failure,” he concluded, adding that the Maldives can face “increasing pressures from the international community if it continue with the forced repatriation.”

March saw the first recorded hijacking of a vessel by Somali pirates in Maldivian waters.

The Maldives is situated at a strategic intersection of sea trade routes, and a significant amount of global maritime traffic passes through or near the country’s northern atolls.

The Maldives’ government first expressed concern over the growing piracy threat in 2010 after small vessels containing Somali nationals began washing up on local islands.

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Hijacked Bolivian ship released

The Bolivian goverment yesterday announced that the vessel MV Elgantine, seized off Hoarafushi island last week by Somali pirates – the first such incident to happen in Maldivian waters – had been released.

The Bolivian International Ship Registry announced that the ship was now continuing on to Iran with its shipment of Brazilian sugar.

After becoming aware of the hijacking, Maldivian and Indian armed forces shadowed the vessel but are not thought to have boarded.

The Maldives agreed to coordinate its anti-piracy activites with Sri Lank last year. The Maldives’ government first expressed concern over the growing piracy threat in 2010 after small vessels containing Somali nationals began washing up on local islands.

The country is situated at a strategic intersection of sea trade routes, and a significant amount of global maritime traffic passes through or near the country’s northern atolls.

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Somali castaways in Maldives say “no” to repatriation

Forty Somali castaways under the custody of Maldivian authorities have recently refused to return home despite arrangements that were made for their safe repatriation, Minivan News has learned.

According to a top government official, who spoke to Minivan News on condition of total anonymity, the government had devoted “immeasurable amount of time and effort” over the past three years to safely repatriate several Somali nationals who have been discovered in Maldivian waters in dinghies lost at sea.

Many were found in frail health conditions due to dehydration and malnourishment, and had to undergo long treatments before being transferred to Dhoonidhoo Detention Center, where they were provided temporary refuge until negotiations on repatriation were finalised.

“However, after all their identities were verified, passports and a chartered flight was arranged for their safe transportation, they refused to go back to Somalia,” said the source, who has worked closely with the case.

“The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s delegation arrived in Maldives to confirm their preference because no refugee can be repatriated without consent under the international conventions,” he said. “So the delegation asked them one question – Are you willing to go? All of them said ‘no!'” he recalled.

He observed that the Maldives cannot resort to the option of forced repatriation as Somalia is recognised as a unsafe state.

Maldives has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol citing “financial and technical capacity constraints” but the convention prohibits all states, regardless of whether they have acceded it, from returning a “refugee to a territory where his or her life or freedom is threatened”.

“So the project is now a big failure,” he concluded, adding that the Maldives can face “increasing pressures from the international community if it continue with the forced repatriation.”

Minivan News could not get a comment from the foreign ministry at the time of press on how the state intends to move forward in solving the repatriation block.

Authorities have earlier echoed concerns over the increased financial burden to the state in providing shelter to the Somalis, who are said to be now in good health and actively involved in prison-based agricultural projects.

A Maldivian expert on combating human trafficking meanwhile noted in an interview to Minivan News that “if repatriation does not work out, the only legal solution would be for Maldives to sign the international conventions on refugees and Rights of Migrant Workers Families and accept the Somalis as refugees, and provide necessary protection granted under these conventions.”

“The Maldives will be pressured to sign the conventions. But, the question is are we ready to face that? We are already in a crisis with the current 100,000 expatriate population in the country which accounts to one third of the Malidives population. If these conventions are passed, it means, the expat population will be doubled or tripled,” he warned. “Are Maldivians willing to become a minority in their own country?” he asked.

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Piracy and the Maldives: special report

The Maldives territorial waters are regarded worldwide as a beautiful and popular setting for desert island holidays, but though the country is about 1,800 miles from the volatile coastlines of Somalia, the island nation is increasingly concerned about becoming the target of potential pirate attacks.

Maritime protection experts and European diplomats linked to coastal security around Somalia have told Minivan News that the Maldives has the potential to become a target for pirate vessels, forced away from African waters as a result of political upheaval and maritime security crackdowns.

Although there is no evidence from Maldivian security officials that national interests have been threatened so far, fears have grown over maritime security and possible acts of piracy in Maldivian waters.

In light of these security concerns, the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) has said it is working alongside the Indian Navy as part of an ongoing collaboration to patrol the country’s territorial waters in attempts to prevent “terrorist acts” such as piracy that it has claimed are a “central concern” to the nation’s maritime security.

MNDF Major Abdul Raheem said he was concerned by the threat of possible attacks on “cargo ships within Maldivian waters by Somali terrorists”.

Several incidents of Somali nationals arriving in the Maldives in dinghies becoming lost at sea were reported during the 2010.

Two days (November 28) after the taking of the Malaysian vessel Albedo, a dinghy containing seven Somali nationals was brought ashore after it was discovered in Gnaviyani Atoll. The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) discovered a bullet shell during a search of the vessel.

On November 30, a second dinghy containing three Somali nationals was discovered by a Maldivian fishing near Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll.

The captain of the fishing boat, Mohamed Hussain, told Minivan News that one of the men had a stab wound in his neck and was seriously injured.

Such incidents have led to allegations that piracy originating in Africa may have reached the Indian Ocean – suspicions that are yet to be proven beyond circumstantial evidence.

Raheem confirmed that the MNDF has yet to uncover any terrorist acts having been conducted by Somali nationals or any other groups linked to piracy in its territorial waters, but added that the authorities remained “on alert”.

As part of joint operations with the coastguard and Indian Navy, Raheem told Minivan News that special patrols are being conducted in the Maldives territorial waters frequently in an attempt to try and preempt acts of piracy or terrorism in a country that is 99 percent sea. “We have not set a date when we will stop these operations, they are still continuing,” he said.

A European diplomat familiar with the EU’s anti-piracy policy around Somalia said that some attacks by Somali pirates had occurred within 300 miles of the Indian coast and that there was a trend for some of these groups to move further away from Africa and deeper into the Indian Ocean.

“We believe that this trend is due to the fact that the pirates are following the vessels – as merchant ships increase their distance from Somalia in order to feel ‘safer’, the pirates follow them resulting in attacks much farther east than ever before,” she said.

As merchant ships have increased their distance from Somalia in search of “safer” transport routes, European defence experts believe that pirates operating from the country have followed in pursuit.

“The pirates will follow the prey,” she explained. “If they can find vessels in or around the Maldives, they will probably attempt to pirate them.”

On a strategic level, the diplomat added that there was “no reason why attacks would not take place in the vicinity of the Maldives”.

Taking the Seychelles as an example – the country is closer to Somalia than the Maldives – she suggested that any pirates contemplating attacking the Maldives would follow a similar pattern.

However, the Seychelles coastguard in collaboration with the European Union Naval Force Somalia (EUNAVFOR), which under the Operation Atalanta military programme has aimed to try and limit the growth and scale of Somali piracy, has recorded some successes.

“Coordinated action can disrupt attacks but there is simply too much money and reward involved to deter attacks significantly,” she said.

From an EU perspective, restricting pirates’ “freedom of manoeuvre” is a major preventative measure, helping to ensure persecution and imprisonment for any individuals caught performing acts of piracy. The adoption of so-called Best Management Practices (BMP) by individual ships could also be adopted by Maldivian vessels wherever possible to further reduce possible attacks through security measures and evasive manoeuvres, according to European officials.

More information on BMP practices can be found here.

http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/3-toxic-waste-behind-somali-pirates/

Instability on land

The European diplomat said that the current piracy problems emanating from Somalia were the result of instability on land, an area she said EU mandated training missions were being focused to try and better train Somali forces for protection.

Tim Hart, a security analyst specialising in piracy originating from the Horn of Africa for the Maritime and Underwater Security Consultants (MUSC), agreed that despite the implications piracy has on the oceans, its origins and solutions remained a landlocked issue.

“Piracy stems from problems on land and will not be stopped until this is tackled,” he said. “Traditional reasons [for piracy] usually extend from strong maritime communities and lack of law and order on land.”

Hart said that from his experience, Somalia was a nation with a “perfect storm of factors” such as a strong proximity to shipping lanes and proliferation of weapons that had contributed to an “extremely high level” of piracy stemming from the country.

With popular shipping routes moving increasingly eastwards from Somalia due to concerns over the dangers of sailing around the Horn of Africa, Hart claimed historical evidence has shown pirates follow these routes, which may in turn have led to the current concerns being expressed in the Maldives.

“Somali pirates have shown over the last few years that they are prepared to move thousands of miles from the coast to target rich environments,” he said. “The Maldives has a popular route for vessels transiting from the Gulf of Aden to the Far East and also for vessels transiting to the Far East from the Middle East.”

As a business, Hart said piracy has originally stemmed from local Somali groups taxing foreign fisherman illegally working within Somali waters and then hijacking their vessels for ransom.

Early successes led the pirates to become more ambitious in terms of the size of vessels they were targeting, Hart added, with the result that by 2008, the numbers of Somali people turning to piracy for survival or profit “exploded”.

This growth in numbers also saw a correspondingly large area being affected by the country’s piracy.

“In 2008 [piracy] was mostly limited within the Gulf of Aden area,” he said. “It moved further into the Indian Ocean in 2009 and in 2010 it has expanded even further east so that in the last 7-14 days, the majority of the attacks have been around 69-70 E – only a few hundred miles from the Maldives.”

As any expanding global business, Hart explained that piracy has become “a huge industry” for Somalia due to being “extremely lucrative.”

“The increase in the number of Somalis involved – represented by an increased amount of groups that operate as well as vessels held at any one time – shows that [piracy] still holds a great attraction for the Somalis,” he explained. “And there is still not a sufficient deterrent to prevent pirate groups from operating.”

Responding to ongoing patrols and the special operations being conducted by Maldives defence forces and the Indian Navy, Hart said that by taking the example of similar military commitments in the Gulf of Aden, such preventative measures had been found to effective in deterring the likelihood of piracy.

Nonetheless, with an apparent expansion into the Indian Ocean and other maritime areas, anti-piracy resources were being stretched to their limits.

“A comparison that is often made [to preventing piracy] is that it is like trying to ‘police the US/Canada border with a scooter’. The area [involved] is larger than the size of mainland Europe. However, when combined with effective onboard measures, pirate effectiveness has decreased in the last 12 months.”

Rob from the rich

While the extraordinary profitability of piracy has led to a surge in the practice – largely driven by the willingness of shipping companies (and their insurers) to pay the ransoms and get on with business, the root cause of the problem is perhaps more socioeconomic than mercenary.

Somali pirates, when captured and questioned, claim that the stealing of fish by giant trawlers and the illegal dumping of toxic waste in their territorial waters has left them little choice but to turn to piracy.

Their claims are not without some merit: in 2003-2004, the UK’s Department for International Development estimates that Somalia – one of the poorest countries in the world – lost  US$100 million dollars in revenue to the illegal fishing of tuna and shrimp by foreign-owned trawlers.

As for the pirates’ claims that toxic waste was being dumped in the country’s EEZ following the collapse of the government in 1991, evidence emerged in 2004 following the tsunami when the rusting containers washed up on the coast of northern Somalia.

This side of the piracy debate – that the rise in Somali piracy was fermented by a decade of abuse by the developed world – was reported by Project Censored as the third most under-reported story of 2010.

“There is uranium radioactive (nuclear) waste. There is lead, and heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. There is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes—you name it,” United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) spokesman Nick Nuttall told Al Jazeera.

As a result, “hundreds of [Somalis] have fallen ill, suffering from mouth and abdominal bleeding, skin infections and other ailments.”

“What is most alarming here is that nuclear waste is being dumped. Radioactive uranium waste that is potentially killing Somalis and completely destroying the ocean,” he said.

The UN envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, revealed that private companies were paying corrupt government ministers and even militia leaders to dump the waste, but that even this token reciprication had disappeared with the demise of the country’s government.

Following these revelations, the European Green Party released copies of contracts signed by two European companies, Achair Partners, and an Italian waste broker, Progresso, with Somali warlords detailing the exchange of 10 million tonnes of toxic waste for US$80 million.

Nuttall notes that disposal of such waste in Europe costs US$1000 a tonne. Somali warlords, in contrast, were willing to accept as little as US$2.50 a tonne.

As a result – and perhaps unsurprisingly – piracy enjoys the widespread support of the Somali population – even across fractious tribal and ethic boundries. Project Censored points to a survey conducted by independent Somalia news site WardherNews, which fond  that 70 percent of the population “strongly support the piracy as a form of national defense of the country’s territorial waters.”

In an article for the UK’s Independent newspaper, journalist Johann Hari claims “You are being lied to about pirates”.

“Do we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our nuclear waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We didn’t act on those crimes – but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 percent of the world’s oil supply, we begin to shriek about ‘evil.’

“If we really want to deal with piracy, we need to stop its root cause – our crimes – before we send in the gun-boats to root out Somalia’s criminals.”

It could be that Maldivians – contending with rising sea levels potentially exacerbated by the industrialisation of the developed world – have more in common with the Somalis washing up on their islands than they may think.

It could be that Somali fishermen are battling their own set of man-made environmental problems – successfully and profitably – with the only means left to them.

“It is said that acts of piracy are actually acts of desperation, and, as in the case of Somalia, what is one man’s pirate is another man’s Coast Guard,” writes Mohamed Abshir Waldo, of Somalia Wardheer News.

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